Landowners join forces to restore New Mexico grasslands

CARLSBAD, N.M. (AP) — Ranchers and land owners in southeastern New Mexico are joining forces to restore grasslands in the area amid the growth of invasive plants and severe drought conditions.

They are seeking to replace invasive bushes such as salt cedar or creosote with vast expanses of native grass, the Carlsbad Current Argus reports .

In Eddy County, for example, conservationists are introducing the herbicide tebuthiuron to hundreds of acres of soil on multiple ranches near Carlsbad. Those efforts are aimed at killing mesquite and salt cedars to make room for native grass.

“You can see remarkably what benefit the tebuthiuron has had,” said Lisa Ogden, who ranches on several portions of Big Hackberry Ranch south of Carlsbad. “You can see the effect these woody plants have on the soil, and the benefit of getting rid of them.”

The Western Landowners Alliance this month hosted a tour of Big Hackberry Ranch and other nearby range lands in southern Eddy County to show the impact herbicides can have on eradicating invasive bushes and increasing soil quality.

New Mexico Association of Conservation Districts Project Manager Jesse Juen said treating the soil and restoring the native plants benefits the overall environment by allowing vegetation to capture more water during the rare rainfall. Conservation efforts are intended to address the individual needs of desert ranchers, Juen said.

“We’re looking at how landowners are doing, especially in a drought-dominated area,” he said. “And this is drought-dominated areas.”

About 90 percent of New Mexico is suffering from drought conditions, Juen said, the country’s highest rate.

Ranchers need to ensure enough vegetation grows on their land to feed cattle and other grazing livestock.

“I’m always anxious to learn what I can about improving soil quality,” said rancher Fred Beard, whose property neighbors Ogden’s. “Healthier brush means a better soil.”

Ranchers could lose their soil without the proper vegetation, said Brenda Simpson, state rangeland management specialist with New Mexico’s Natural Resource Conservation Service — an arm of the U.S. Agriculture Department.

She said native plants exude carbon-based sugars into the soil during photosynthesis, adding nutrients to the soil and causing greater vegetative diversity.

By using rotational grazing, Simpson said ranchers could ensure the health of the soil, thus the plants and their future availability to livestock.

“Every time a plant gets grazed, it has to pull those nutrients up from the soil,” she said. “You better let it rest. You’ll get to a point where you’ll shut the factory down. Once you shut down the factory, it’s not too long before that plant will die out of the community.”


Information from: Carlsbad Current-Argus,